vendredi 18 septembre 2015

State of the Infinity Battlescape Kickstarter and prototype

State of the Kickstarter

Hi Everybody, this is Flavien. It's been a long time since my last blog, but this one is going to be a bit special ( and probably pretty long ) as there are a lot of things to say.

First thing first, this is not the official Kickstarter launch date announcement just yet. We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and all the pieces of the puzzle are getting assembled. But there are still final touches and a couple of important topics to sort on ( legal stuff, marketing / PR campaign, website etc.. ). The Kickstarter is coming soon though. Very soon. Well, relatively speaking, of course. We're aiming to launch it before the end of the year and since we can't start the campaign in december ( it'd be really bad timing with Christmas ), that leaves a short timing window which I'm sure you can guess.

That being said, keep in mind most of the team ( that means: everybody but me ) is currently working part time. It's crunch time, yes, but everybody has to cope with full time jobs and family, which means that even with the best will there's only so much hours we can work on during the week.

Many members of the team have left and worked full time for I-Novae Studios for some period of time in the past, but at the end of the day you need money to fill your belly. In my personal case I've been working full time on this project for almost 3 years now, but my savings are slowly running out, so now is a good timing to get funding. I'm extremely excited and I can't wait to see how people are going to react to all the good stuff we've been keeping under wraps for the launch of the KS campaign !

So what's the current state of this KS campaign ? In summary,
  • The in-engine/game video is done, minus final touches and editing; Panu still has to do a final pass on the sound effects.
  • The live action pitch video is getting assembled and edited ( remember we went to Helsinki last June to record all the segments )
  • The Infinity Battlescape website has been designed and is functional but is still missing on some content which we are going to fill by the end of the month
  • We've started to create and fill the Kickstarter page itself with content, reward tiers, etc..
  • We've started to ramp up our PR / marketing campaign, collecting contact infos / interested parties, to reach out when the day comes
  • ... and of course, working on the Battlescape prototype ( more on that soon ) 
Once all of that is done we're still going to need some time for the approval process from Kickstarter and of course announcing an official release date. It will probably be a short notice but at this point I think all our regular followers are already aware that we're going to launch soon so that shouldn't be a problem.

The Battlescape Game Prototype: expectations

As we have been teasing in the past, I have started working on a prototype of the game. It's obviously in a very early stage, and it is not a pre-alpha. It is a prototype. I really want to emphasize this, because although I'm implementing it so that as many components can be reused in the future, there are major systems that will probably have to get revamped when we start on the actual game after the Kickstarter. Gameplay is experimental, and is currently just used to get a "feel" on how things might play and look like. So don't jump jump to conclusions after seeing it in action ( right now in this blog it'll just be small teasers, but we'll show a lot more during the KS campaign ), nothing in set in stone and it still looks rough.

Let's start with the technical side first. The prototype was built on top of the Kickstarter pitch video assets. Those assets weren't built for the prototype in the first place, which practically means that in terms of polycounts and textures resolution, we've been cutting corners. To give an example, the Hellion has a polycount budget of 11,000 triangles. But this number was set many years ago and is outdated. In recent tests we've pushed this budget to around 200,000 triangles for a small ship like the Hellion, and much more for bigger ships like a carrier. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to remake the assets, so the Hellion still looks low-poly. Rest assured that for the actual game we'll rework all these assets and upgrade their look.

TL;DR: Everything you'll see in the Kickstarter and Prototype is already pretty much already outdated in terms of visual look. I know it sounds weird to say that when it's taken us a long time to get this Kickstarter out of the door, but it's simply a practical consequence of developing all of this in our part time at a lower pace instead of working with real funding. In addition, we're not working with an established engine like Unity or Unreal Engine 4, therefore there are constantly new technical features / improvements that we need to do, which other games / Kickstarters aren't bothering with ( and which allow us to provide you an entire seamless Solar system ! ).

Let's move on to the good stuff now: gameplay. Now of course, the prototype being pretty recent, it doesn't feature any advanced gameplay. It's pretty much a huge sandbox multiplayer game. Players spawn in different areas. There are a multiple points of interest including planetary bodies ( the Earth-like moon has rings ), a gas giant and a bunch of installations on planets or in space. The Hellion is the only player-controlled ship ( there are others in the system though ). There's only one weapon type. Many ship sub-systems are functional though ( boosters, warping, front lights, energy redirection, detection sensors.. ). The physics are completely newtonian, ICP-style. You can fly your ship with auto-assist on, which helps to control your flight direction and speed. It also performs hovering on planets by compensating the gravity by using the lateral thrusters. If you disable your computer's auto-assist mode though, you get pure newtonian physics including gravity from planetary bodies. Orbital velocity mechanics are also supported.

The HUD is very basic at the moment, but functional. There are also multiple squad "formation" modes supported. For example, it is possible to automatically align your velocity to a target's. It is possible to align not only your velocity, but also your position behind a target to "chase" it. Flying on planets as a formation in canyons is tons of fun, but the leader has to be careful not to lose his teammates with brutal movements. Oh, speaking of planets, there's an experimental atmospheric flight model, which takes into account friction ( based on your ship's shape and size ), thrust, lift, stall, gravity, wind and much more. When you fly too fast in atmospheres, you start losing control / maneuverability of your ship, which can sometimes lead to collisions. Different planets have different atmospheric conditions.

Looking at the videos below, I'm sure you'll notice some props ( trees, rocks ) on the planets. Usual disclaimer: it's experimental, yes we know there is some popping, but we thought it helped to demonstrate the sense of scale. We'll address popping and various other issues later on and do some optimizations to allow a higher density of props.

Me, Dan, Jan and Gene flying in formation in a canyon. Or trying to..

A public Play-test session ?!..

The other news of the day: we're going to host a play-test session before the KS launches. To be more specific, it will happen on the week-end of the 26-27th september ( a week away from now ). We're only looking for a handful of play testers to get some "unbiased" feedback about the state of the prototype before the launch of our media campaign, what feels good/bad and whether it runs decently on other hardware. By handful, I mean only 4, maximum 5 people, so don't get your hopes up too high: there will be some pretty arbitrary restrictions to being able to participate in this test. The criteria are:
  • User trust level 2 ( member ) or above, on the forums
  • Skype
  • Availability during the 26-27th september week-end ( afternoons/evenings for European times, morning/afternoons for USA times )
  • The test session itself will last around one hour, and will be done live on Skype with me ( I'll tutor you on the basics and evaluate how easy/hard it is for you to get into it )
  • System specs: Windows 7 64 bits, 8 GB RAM and a 4 GB VRAM GPU
If you fit these criteria, send me a PM on the forums with your availability times in CET or EDT, your machine specs and your Skype account name for contacting you.

Small FAQ:

Q. I'm not available on the week-end of the 26-27th, is it possible to host the session at another time ?

A. No, it cannot be hosted earlier since many features / bugs have to be addressed by then, and it cannot really be hosted after due to the short delay with launching the KS campaign.

Q.  Will I be able to replay the game on my own later, maybe in an off-line mode ?

A. This will be a one-time event, and the game being mutliplayer, you won't be able to play without the server. We won't waste time doing backwards maintenance for previous versions as every day we're evolving the prototype, so for practical reasons.. no.

Q. Will I be able to publically speak about my experience, post screenshots etc.. ?

A. We'll ask you to refrain from doing so before the Kickstarter has launched as we want to keep all our content under wraps. After the KS has launched you will be able to talk publically about your experience if you wish to do so.

Q. I fit all the criteria other than for my video card. It's a bit older and doesn't have 4 GB of vram, can I still apply ?

A. You can but you won't be prioritized. The prototype uses unoptimized assets, so it consumes a lot of vram at the moment ( according to my tests, up to 3.5 GB ). A 3 GB video card will be able to run it, but with slowdowns / short random freezes. A 2 GB video card.. will have a lot of trouble to run it at a decent framerate. The final game will be optimized to run better, but we're still far away from that.

Typically, we're looking into people having a Geforce 970+ or Radeon R9 380+

Q. How do I know what my trust level on the forums is ?

A. Go in your account profile, on top of the screen near the join date bar, you should see your "Trust Level". "Regular" is level 3, "Member" is level 2.

Q. What will happen during the test ?

A.  The goal of this test is first technical: to see what framerate you get, if there are any stability issues ( crashes, bugs.. ) and if the server is stable. The second goal is to see how difficult it is for a new player to enter the game and quickly learn how to fly around. I don't expect it to be that difficult, especially since as a member of the Infinity community you'll already be aware of all the concepts. It'll be interesting to see how you handle the default controls. I'll help you with the various ship functions, control and the HUD of course. Then if everything works well, I'll probably take you on a tour to visit a few planets and have a small dogfight :) The test will end on a debriefing.

Q. Will there be other players ( devs ? ) during the test ?

A.  Probably not, at least not at the beginning, since the goal is to slowly / methodically evaluate how a new player experiences the game for the first time. A couple devs might join, depending on their availability, at the end of the test. We'll see.

Q. How big will the client download be ?

A. Around 2 GB.

If you have other questions, feel free to comment on the forums thread.

8 commentaires:

  1. Hope the session goes well.
    Can't wait for the KS =)

  2. Good time to come Flavien and this blog was simply superb and this KS campaign game seems to be a good one and that prototype you worked on was an effective one in order to launch this strategy in the market.

  3. Elgg developers at Social Engine India provides a full range of Elgg development and customization services including platform themes development, design and hosting.

  4. Salut Flavien...

    I read your critical essay about the competition and I just wanted to know how do you feel about Elite: Horizon, now that Davide showed his idea of expansion (which is in it's infancy at the moment)? Fact is David should hire you and boost his planet landing development ten fold! You have now a lot of experience developing this technology and as these games take more and more (should I say "infinite" ;-)) time to create, maybe a partnership (or a big salary+creative decision power) at Frontier would do the best for us the end users to get the PERFECT space simulator in a much shorter time! En tout cas, ton projet est allechant et le technologie que tu as cree est vraiment fantastique, bravo l'artiste!